Mind and Person in the Philosophy of Religion: Introduction
Thomas (Janice L.)
Source: Thomas (Janice L.) - Mind and Person in the Philosophy of Religion
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Introduction – 1
  2. Philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion – 1
  3. Why study about mind and person in the philosophy of religion? – 2
  4. Studying mind and person: how to use this guide in learning the subject – 2
  5. Essential and recommended reading – 3
  6. About the examination – 6
Full Text
  1. The paper Mind and person in the philosophy of religion examines the concept of person, the mind/body problem, and their significance for religious belief, personal identity and immortality.
  2. Philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion: If you are reading this you are a person and have (or, perhaps better, are) a mind. What else goes along with this fact about you? What is it to have or be a mind? What is the nature of mind and what is the relationship between being (or having) a mind and being a person? How, in turn, are these related to being a self or, again, a soul? Are you one single something which can be described alternatively as
    • a person endowed with mental properties or powers, possessing the capacity to reason and decide as well as traits of personality and character
    • a self, the conscious subject of sensory and non-sensory experiences including memories of your past and projects for your future
    • a soul with moral responsibility and spiritual qualities and a prospect of immortality?
    Or are you more accurately viewed as a cluster of separate distinct things — a sort of committee consisting of at least two mutually independent things:
    • a living physical animal of the species homo sapiens and
    • an immaterial substance — a thing untainted by any property shared with physical things?
    All of these questions are traditionally regarded by philosophers as the province of the philosophy of mind. For present purposes, philosophy of mind can be regarded as overlapping with and, in essence, forming a branch of the philosophy of religion.
  3. Activity: The question ‘What is philosophy?' has already been addressed in the introduction to your guide to Philosophy of religion. It would be worth reminding yourself what was said there, particularly about the nature and purpose of philosophical enquiry. The same four intellectual activities practised in philosophy of religion generally are all very important in philosophy of mind:
    • metaphysics — the attempt to discover the fundamental nature of mind upon which all mental or psychological phenomena depend
    • logic — the appraisal of arguments and reasonings about the nature of the experiencing subject to discover which ones are valid (i.e. conform to the rules of logic)
    • epistemology — the endeavour to discover what is knowable about our own minds and the minds of others including the question what things, other than ourselves, are (or have) minds
    • analysis — aims to clarify
      … i. what people mean when they make certain statements about minds and persons and
      … ii. how they justify those statements.
  4. Why study about mind and person in the philosophy of religion? There are three main motivations for choosing to study this subject:
    • In the first place you may simply have an interest in finding out what the great thinkers of the past and recent times have concluded about the fundamental nature of thinking subjects — those entities that feel and act, make moral choices and are capable of aesthetic and religious experience — in other words, ourselves.
    • Second, you may have an interest in the question of the very possibility of survival of death1. Whatever the claims of any particular religion about actual survival, it can be a fascinating question whether the belief that it is logically possible for a person to survive his or her own bodily death even makes sense. Certainly some thinkers have argued that the notion of personal survival of death2 is incoherent. If something is impossible or incoherent, it cannot be true. So anyone who feels inclined to accept the truth of resurrection as an article of religious faith should want to examine the case for and against the possibility or coherence of the notion.
    • Finally, it may be that in studying for the paper in Philosophy of religion you have developed a taste for philosophical questions and enquiry and wish to extend your experience of such study into the area of philosophy of mind.
  5. Studying mind and person: how to use this guide in learning the subject
    • You may be motivated by one, two or all three of the reasons just outlined. In any case it would be well to read straight through the guide first, without consulting any of the recommended reading, just to get a sense of which subjects are treated where and in what depth. Of course, some of it will not make much sense until you have read the books and articles to which the guide is meant as an introduction: try not to be discouraged by this. Remember that your first read-through is just for orientation and to help you begin to make a selection of topics on which to concentrate.
    • After this first read-through, you may have a provisional list of six or seven topics you find particularly interesting. However, do not start by restricting yourself to those topics. Begin by working through all the topics in order and discover by trial and error which topics genuinely engage your interest and which feel like more of a duty! You are always likely to be more successful in an examination if you write on topics and questions that really puzzle you and hold your attention, ones that your mind comes back to outside study time, of its own accord. You should also soon discover which topics you really find easier and which, if any, turn out to be too difficult.
    • The guide is divided into two parts: Part 1 focuses on ‘The metaphysics of mind and body', while Part 2 is concerned with ‘Personal identity and survival of death3'. There are nine chapters in Part 1 grouped into two sections: ‘Dualism' and ‘Varieties of anti-dualism and materialism', and three chapters in Part 2.
    • Some of the chapter topics are relatively free-standing while others are related to their neighbours so that you would be best advised to work further on all or none. So Chapter 1 (on Plato's Phaedo) could be studied on its own while the next three chapters (on arguments for and against Descartes' substance dualism) are closely related and a good examination answer on a sub-topic dealt with mainly in one of them might well also use points made only in adjacent chapters. Chapters 6 and 9 are closely related as are 6 and 7. Chapter 8 on Davidson is relatively independent of others but could not be tackled before you at least read through the rest of the second section of Part 1. The three chapters of Part 2 are, like their topics, inextricably entwined with one another. You should plan to answer at least one examination question on the subjects in Part 2. This means that you ought not to concentrate your studies exclusively on Part 1 of the guide.
    • In your progress through the whole guide and recommended reading, you should aim to spend roughly six to eight hours a week on ‘mind and person' if you are intending to cover it in a year. Of course, this is an average estimate and people differ in their ability to tackle very abstract, difficult academic subjects. This means that the amount of time you will need to study the material may be quite different from this estimate. Only you can tell how much reading over what periods and at what times of day results in the maximum accomplishment for you, although as a general guide many people find that the rule ‘little and often' works better than long concentrated sessions with long gaps in between.
    • As you work your way through the whole guide, you should make some notes on all of the topics but make the most detailed notes on the topics you find most interesting. You will probably find it useful to revise by reading over your notes on your chosen topics and condensing them. It would also be a good idea to go back to some of the books and reread parts that seemed to you particularly important — perhaps because other writers referred to or criticised them. What you have learned by working your way through the entire subject may help you to understand more of what seemed less accessible earlier in the year.
  6. Essential and recommended reading
    • A good dictionary of philosophy is a worthwhile investment. Lacey's Dictionary listed below is excellent: both the entries and suggested further readings are clear and helpful.
    • ** Books which you should buy are indicated with this double asterisk.
    • * This single asterisk indicates books that it would be helpful for you to own, but you don't need to buy all of them provided you can borrow them from or use them in a library.
    • Many useful books on this subject will not be obtainable for purchase because they are out of print. Wherever a very important book is out of print, I have attempted to summarise the crucial passages in my text.
  7. Essential reading for the whole subject
  8. Essential reading for specific topics
  9. Further reading
  10. About the examination
    • The examination will last for three hours. You will be asked to answer three questions chosen from a dozen or more spread among the 12 topics of the guide (although there is no guarantee that every topic will come up in every examination paper).
    • You will always have a good choice. Since you will be asked to answer only three questions, you should have no difficulty finding enough questions you feel comfortable attempting to answer if you have prepared at least seven of the (chapter) topics, as I advised above.
    • When revising your short-listed topics for the exam, it would be a good idea to try writing sample answers to the sample questions given at the end of each chapter of the guide. This will give you an idea of how much material is required to make an adequately long answer and will also tell you something about how successful you have been in committing the material to memory.
    • The sample questions are intended to give you some indication of the sort of thing an examiner might ask about subtopics in each chapter area. Some questions are broader than others but it is unlikely that a single question will expect an answer which covers everything in a chapter. You will be expected to write in some depth on a topic narrower than that of any chapter as a whole and the questions will be worded in such a way as to point you in the direction of the part of the chapter topic required. It is always better to write clearly and accurately on just the ‘slice' of the subject asked about in the question than to drag in or mention everything you can think of that is even remotely relevant.
    • In the section above on how to study, I advised that you prepare for the examination on at least one chapter topic from Part 2. If you decide to write on more than one question based on the material from Part 2, be careful to keep your answers from overlapping or repeating material. In general, it is wise to try to make your answers throughout the exam free from overlap and repetition.
    • It is worth practising writing answers to time as the examination approaches. Effectively you have only 50 minutes to write each answer, and this is really very little: you need to practise getting the central points down first and then giving the supporting arguments and/or opposing points of view where appropriate. That is, try to structure your answer — with an introduction setting down the issue to be discussed, a central section stating the arguments and a conclusion that winds up the discussion. Spending a few minutes at the start on an outline of your answer should help with this, and ensure that you don't stray from the main points.
    • Most important of all: do not try to compose and memorise answers. The sample questions will not reappear on the exam in the same words, asking exactly the same thing. You will do well only if you answer the questions that are actually on the specific examination paper in front of you on the day. Do not undermine all chance of success by writing answers to questions that are not there.


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